KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
The thought of church today may conjure up images from the opening scene of “Footloose.” Parents and grandparents listen attentively to the minister while young people stare into space or squirm uncomfortably when the preacher attacks their favorite activities. The music is off-key and boring, nobody is smiling, and nobody is excited.
Contrast that with the image of 600 young people, their arms lifted, eyes closed, singing at the top of their lungs. They’re not just singing the words projected onto the three huge video screens – they’re proclaiming their devotion to God. This is the scene every Wednesday night at Generation Church in Kirkland, Wash. This is not church as usual.
The conventional idea of church is fading and the new style – one with cutting-edge music, multimedia and a variety of meeting places that are sometimes surprising – is drawing thousands of young people across the nation back into the Christian faith.
Call it a new, hipper kind of church. Call it a movement.
These church groups sometimes meet in coffeehouses, schools or people’s homes. The purpose is to appeal to those who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting.
Skate Church in Portland, Ore., meets in a warehouse that’s been transformed into a skate park. It’s a ministry of Central Bible Church that reaches out to skaters in particular, offering them a place to skate and attend Bible studies.
Christian ministries are also using the Internet to reach young people. Karen Ward, pastor at Church of the Apostles in Seattle, has her own blog called “Submergence” that she regularly posts her thoughts on.
As with everything done to draw the interest of my generation, the music of this Christian movement is critical. Many churches have gotten rid of hymns and now have their own bands.
A worship gathering called the Passion Experience recently had 3,000 young people in attendance in New York – not to hear the band but to sing to God.
Some people have criticized this new kind of Christianity, saying it’s too self-focused or too watered-down.
Neither is true.
This new kind of church is breaking away from the typical Sunday service attendance, where people go to be reminded that there’s a God somewhere out there and that they need to be careful how they behave so they don’t get sent to hell.
The old-style church is like taking an hour or two to “visit” the realm of God, and then quickly moving back into the comfortable activities of everyday life.
The new message is more personal than that. It goes beyond just having a religion. Many in my generation incorporate their faith into every aspect of their lives. Several of my peers at Generation Church, the youth ministry of The City Church in Kirkland, have started Bible studies and prayer groups at their schools. They invite their friends to come and see what’s so important to them.
Many of them don’t have Christian parents. They were invited by friends and stayed because they found a faith that related to them.
This new, hipper version of the Christian movement can’t be disregarded as something that will pass. These young people are serious about what they believe. They are the future of the American church.
For those who think they know what church is like, look again. For my generation, there is no such thing as a typical church.
April Seipp is a writer for NEXT, a Sunday opinion page in The Seattle Times, and a sophomore at American University in Washington, D.C. E-mail: NEXT@seattletimes.com.